Why some European cities want to keep the tourists away

Empty bridge in Prague

On a warm Friday night in July, the sun seemed to linger behind Amsterdam’s low, 16th century skyline. In the red light district, the crush of tourists that was common before the pandemic had long since vanished, making it easy for a delivery worker to cycle past a handful of gawkers around the old town’s notorious storefronts.

While six German men in matching T-shirts ignored signs warning of a €95 (£81) fine as they swilled beers on a nearby footbridge, they were the exception. Mostly, only small groups of sedate strollers were about on this midsummer evening.

Centuries before its more lurid attractions took hold, Amsterdam was already a tourist draw. As far back as 1345, when a communion wafer at a local church apparently proved indestructible, pilgrims flocked to see the miracle host. In modern times, decidedly fewer spiritual activities have drawn millions to the city’s quaint, canal-lined quarters. And the noise, garbage and violence followed.

The city was already scrambling to find ways to restrain the tourist trade before the coronavirus struck. Hefty fines for public drinking, tight restrictions on short-term rentals and outright bans on certain types of shops were implemented. But more visitors kept coming. By 2019, their numbers approached nine million – more than ten per resident.

Then it all stopped. For months, tourists were nowhere to be found as borders were sealed tight. Later, as infection waves receded, only a trickle returned. Overall, almost 25 per cent fewer tourists have visited Amsterdam’s commercial establishments since Covid-19 arrived.

This is an excerpt from an article by Paul Tullis, originally published by the Independent.

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